Remember back in August, when Glenn Beck held that big rally in Washington, D.C., to "restore honor"? Tens of thousands of people gathered to cheer on right-wing speakers and protest ... something. Not long after that, Jon Stewart held a rally in the same city to "restore sanity." Tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate ... irony?
Those rallies got a lot of attention in the American press at the time but neither amounted to diddly-squat. Both were examples of Kabuki theater on a mass scale — entertainers performing for their fans, about as consequential as Saturday morning television wrestling.
What's happening in the Middle East is the real deal — demonstrations and protests with consequences, instigated by people who have had enough, who want their freedom, who want their despotic leaders removed, and who are brave enough to risk everything to achieve those goals.
To a lesser degree, the same thing is playing out in Wisconsin, where thousands of people are outraged at the government's attempt to take away their right to unionize and are willing to take to the streets to oppose the legislation. And with the advent of the Internet and social tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, it's never been easier for people to organize mass protests or to show the world where and how injustice is happening.
And that's the eternal lesson: Change — real change — always comes from the bottom, from the people getting screwed. When a sufficient number of personal lives — and livelihoods — are impacted, people will organize and fight. Some of those at the top — the Sarah Palins, Glenn Becks, and Al Sharptons of the world — will try to jump in front of the crowds and call themselves leaders. But they're not. They're opportunists and parasites on the body politic.
It's a sad fact of human nature that those with power and money never seem to be able to help themselves from seeking more — through oppressive, vengeful legislation, through gerrymandered redistricting, through corporate bailouts and tax laws that favor those who already have more money than they can ever spend, through service cuts that punish those who are struggling.
The arc of history shows that power is fluid. When those few on top abuse the many below, their days on top are numbered. It may take years or even decades, but eventually, what goes around comes around. Honor and sanity can be restored — at least until the next bunch gets greedy.